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"I AM CONTINUALLY WITH THEE"
Psalm 73 and Apologetics
This concluding chapter of "Red Heart, Dead Heart and Pure Heart" involves more than a sight-seeing tour of Psalm 73, and in some ways less. It is an endeavour to find from the intensity of the meditation, the immensity of the topic, the experience of the saint concerned (Asaph), the witness of spiritual grandeur incorporated, the disciplines endured and the devotion expressed, in the company of all the saints seen in the Bible, an attestation of the sanctity of Biblical spirituality, relating to verified reality, now witnessed in the added realm of experienced companionship, and values both virtuous and coincident with the promises of the objective God.
If you read this Psalm, your response will doubtless vary according to who you are, where you are spiritually, and where you would like to be! It is like wine tasting. If like the author, you detest alcoholic beverages with something approaching passion, because of what one has witnessed of their effects on otherwise rather attractive personalities, with a personal detestation of anything which reduces the purity and power of working of the system which God has donated to you, then of course you will not be likely to enjoy the flavour. What is the good of flavour in a poison!
If on the other hand, like Siegfried, in James Herriot's veterinary reflections, you really appreciate fruit cake, and find it a joy to estimate for its special virtues, flavour, consistency, nuttiness or whatever else, then you may react rather, as reported of him. Thus this noted Vet, when asked by a lady who excelled in the art of cuisine, would sample her wares, and apparently come with delighted anticipation. Each quality of the cake would be as a goad to his intense perception, and judicious comment!
In the case in point, on one occasion, the lady substituted a cake of her sister's to try Siegfried, her vet, to find out whether his consistent praise of her cakes was flattery, a professional act, or whether the values inherent in her cake, were really appreciated for their own worth! Rising to the occasion, Siegfried rolled a piece of it in his hand, tasted it, drank with it, contemplated and so on, in what seemed almost a one act Play. Then after due reflection, he announced that yes, it was good, indeed very good; but for all that, not up to her usual standard. His amazing perception, without prior knowledge of the substitution of the sister's cake, ensured his rising acclaim as cake tester!
Our point here, however, is simply this: what one finds in something being appraised will tend to vary according to one's anticipation, the degree of arousal of one's perceptions, and of course, one's innate capacity to appreciate anything in the realm concerned. Thus a child of 7 is not quite likely to appreciate with much objectivity and precision, the degree of elegance either in a mathematical solution, or a translation from the Greek to English.
In spiritual things, the case is far more severe than even this. Biblically - and we are currently looking at the persistent consistency of the Bible, in its coverage in this spiritual case - the question is not so much whether the taster has advanced and sophisticated savour available, but whether there are any available healthy taste-buds at all in his mouth! If the life of those outside Christ is generically, as mankind, ALIENATED from the life of God, and if there is a systematic IGNORANCE in them, associated with blindness of heart, as Paul attests in Ephesians 4:17-19, then savouring of the spiritual is an harassed art, a capacity significantly below the sublime.
Indeed, it can reach the point of making little children who DO know God, and who are NOT alienated from Him (where such is the case with a given child), connoisseurs by comparison. After all, if you are blind, there is not too much that you can see, though you may sense something!
Nevertheless, that is not all. The Lord is very gracious and as when on earth, may confront, enthuse, enable a degree of awareness (as in the case of the seed that fell on ground still stony, leading nevertheless to a temporary excitation - Luke 8:13). Such persons may even accredit spiritual things for a while, without their hearts being changed, the rocky underlay remaining, there being no repentance by faith. On the other hand, the Lord may as in Acts 16:14, open the heart of someone who hears, so that there is a simple, unmolested faith implanted.
Whatever the case, and the possibilities are multitudinous, it is well to approach our topic now, realising the dangers of spiritual sedation or rebellion indeed, conscious or otherwise, but looking according to our task at the actual realities in terms of their consistency and purity.
73 in its
PERSISTENT CONSISTENCY OF ACCLAIM OF GOD,
IN ITS SPIRITUAL REALISM
AND PERSONAL GRACE
This then is merely a treatment of one aspect of this Psalm, but let us proceed.
With emphasis and finality, the psalmist affirms, "Truly God is good to Israel". This, in context, appears both as a conclusion, like those reports which commence with the abstracted finding, and a conviction.
is then immediately contrasted with the pathological weakness just displayed
by the writer.
had been 'through the mill', swept by spiritual desert sands with their
sharpness on the flesh, and their penetration to the lungs, to the very
breath of life. Envy had led him very nearly to fall, and as one grows
older, the unwisdom of falling (physically) becomes more and more apparent!
It is often so spiritually.
WHY should wicked people, selfish, self-interested, partisans of their own glory which is no glory but pretension, oppressors, people whose words and thoughts freely rove into seizing this or grabbing that, lofty partisans of their own desires, pilotless aircraft like robotic drones sent across the fields to oversee the enemy, seemingly all but soulless, why should they fare as often they do!
? "they speak loftily"
against the heavens, indulging in fantasies against their Maker, they "scoff",
allowing their own 'die at any moment' little lives, which they neither
understand nor control, to arise as if gods (precisely as in Psalm 82,
in its glorious ironies)! Though, as there, they "will
die like men", yet as gods they parade their
puny pomp, their ghastly illusions, their arrogant confusions.
These ? seemingly scarcely worthy of the name 'human', do they not for all that exhibit themselves so that "pride serves as their necklace", and do not their "eyes bulge with abundance", as "they set their mouth against the heavens". Often they proceed, prospering as children of darkness, just as Christ indicated (Luke 16:8), because their hearts, set on vanity, being vain, move with much material profit from the muck heap they so esteem!
This, it is their study, their field, and they wallow in it; but to the Psalmist at the time, it induced envy! They do THIS and get THAT! he mused.
As Christ declared in a parable, "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light", so that their self-interested, or self-vaunting prowess is not likely to go in all cases, without a reward to appease their spiritual loss, personal vacuity or self-willed programmatics, which intrude into their spirits, like jagged edges of sharp steel, piercing into a tree trunk.
Now, in verses 10ff., we see the correction from the Lord, of this envy, which should have been pity. The quietening of this agitation, in the spiritual pilgrim who is to be purged of his weakness, now leads on to his being given sight instead of the dull mournings of an erring spirit.
"Therefore His people return" - they seek the Lord. AS ACKNOWLEDGING that the purpose of life is not accumulation of content and riches, praise and vainglory, it is not fitting to be mourning their loss! If you are going to be an athlete, there is little point in mourning the huge hamburgers, replete with charring, which you may have to forego! If proficiency and efficiency and the wonder of the chase is in your heart, in your eye, in your ambition, then what is contrary may be felt, but should scarcely be weighed! However, if it is, then it is time for the coach to remind you of your intentions, of their value and of their requirements.
The Lord promised NOT to leave His people "comfortless" but to send the Comforter, the Strengthener, the One called alongside, the companion, to help them; and it is HE who can so readily coach, purify and intensify the understanding (cf. John 14:14-18, Ephesians 1:17-19, II Corinthians 12:7-9).
Even the apostle Paul, lest be should be in danger of exulting in his experiences, yes even his spiritual experiences, his eyes so open that so much was seen that it was an engulfing glory which he found, one stable, sober and sure, verified, validated and virtuous, personal, intense and immense: even he received a corrective. He soon found that there were divine steps taken, measures, to prevent any arrogance! The term 'thorn in the flesh' has come doubtless from this base! It is better to be limited or purged in some things, than to go astray; it is better to hear the challenge of the coach, than to go off the track. It is better to have the bread of adversity with the humble, than witless of any such intention, nevertheless to start into the thrall of the crowd of the self-possessed, the self-assured, the proud.
As in all purification, rigour may be needed. The pollutants have to be removed, the errors corrected, the additions overcome, the devious dynamics annulled. It may hurt when the case is personal, when the object is a subject! So be it. "Is there knowledge in the Most High!" came the taunt of the lofty. In fact, there is no knowledge that is truth, anywhere else, except it be by donation. All this we have seen often, and in particular, in SMR Ch. 3! Will a vessel undefined, define its environment ? will a cog become an architect ? will an engine assess engineers ? If that were what man was, the concept that this is what he is, FROM a mere man, would be indeed a subject for choice mirth!
Without absolute truth in existence (by theory based on nothing), there is nothing for man to find in that realm, such as this, that there is no absolute truth! He could not even logically articulate the proposition, express the opinion, aver this assessment. It is because the Most High is inevitably demonstrable (as in SMR, TMR esp. Chs. 1, 5 and 7, Repent or Perish esp. Chs. 2 and 7 and so on), that it becomes meaningful to discuss the truth, including the interrogative proposition, What is truth ? If you wish to assume or even to imply that there is none, then at once your opinion is false, for it would need to be truth that there was none. It is mere flat, self-contradiction, one index to the irrationality of the approach.
Like dirt, it is common; and impurity it is which so afflicts the scorner, the grandiose who mock with much, scoff with sedated aplomb, but not at themselves, something which would be far more just in view of their self-contradiction.
is only when one has followed the evidence by logic to its source, that
one finds absolute truth, which mercifully has defined itself in its own
terms, as demonstrated in SMR; and it is only then that the expression
of views about absolute truth becomes meaningful. It is a simple cut-off
situation: without it, you cannot move. By logic, you are forced there;
when you arrive, you find the attestation, verified and validated. This
in turn at once resolves the 'problem' of saying what the truth is or is
not, which is met when you prescribe its absence in advance.
Thus Pilate's question, "What is truth? " simply showed his pathology. If it meant this, that there is none! then it would be an impossible and not merely an implausible logical construction. He exposed his own death of spirit, nothing more; and it was scarcely surprising that when meeting the Truth, the Absolute Truth, incarnate as Jesus the Christ, though reluctant (for what man does not have some hankering for it), he enabled this same Christ to be put to death. In that, there is much more than a mere parable of the life of millions!
Pilate was not known ever to have been purged of his pathology; and died seemingly somewhat unhappily, without imperial favour any more, in exile. So do many exile themselves by their follies not from Caesar, but from God. Caesar ? who and where is he! He himself goes the way to judgment.
But we return from this little excursion into meaning, to find the Psalmist reporting his earlier temptation situation. He as exclaiming in anguish in the depths of his spirit, like this (v. 13):
"Surely I a cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning."
Chastened ? child-trained! How often we find, with some of the aborigines, may one have to show the same way of writing the letters of the alphabet, or making a scripted hand-writing. To be sure, it is not least a matter of environment. When the parents are bookish, love literature, when books are everywhere in the house, when a mother can read with expression and feeling, when one's childhood is spent with delightfully illustrated material, and the poise of good speech is in the house, good companions abound and so on, one has the ingredients for an early stimulated imagination and desire for words as the articles of expression.
When, however, this is not so, either because there is a more practical emphasis in the house, or because there is something which replaces such occupations, such as alcohol in its sheer stupefying abundance, or resentment and such things, there is less scope.
When there is resentment of education, then the case can be worse.
One therefore makes allowance, and is most pleased when the little ones begin to show any zest, any joy in mastery of meaning, grabbing words, finding how to write their names in script, or whatever it may be. How delightful to see them beginning to assimilate the concept of words, to rejoice in finding here at last, something which really means something, conveys something, which is stable, solid and doable!
It is in Psalm 73, however, though not without parallel to such a procedure, far more spiritual. It is not a mere sense of glorious delight in new means of finding and expressing meaning, but rather one of finding the meaning itself! It is the meaning which gives perspective and understanding, power and authority to life which is found. However, as with the early writing lessons, it is a meaning which requires some discipline. One does not merely luxuriate in one's own spirit, and pick up the cakes! It is a process of purging of mischief, of mistake, of misconception, of erring thought and straying spiritual aspirations. Thus when the people of God return to His more immediate presence, their hearts perhaps temporarily somewhat jaded by this or that, "waters of a full cup are drained by them."
While this exercise in purification is proceeding, however, the case is ever so different, divergent indeed with the self-willed, the vainglorious and the worldlings.
"But they say, How does God know ? and is their knowledge in the Most High ?" as we have already seen. Here note the contrast to the purging rigours experienced by the saints of God (that is, the Christians, who in Paul's letters are repeatedlly addressed as 'saints').
"Behold these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches" (v. 12).
But has the saint cleansed his heart in vain ? Did not the Lord show it was anything but vain when discussing the point with Israel, in Jeremiah ? That beautiful exhortation came like this:
For a truculent tenderness, what heart is in this!
see the response of some in Jeremiah 14:7-9:
"O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us,Do it, O Lord, is the cry! accomplish it, what is needed! It is this which is the urgent request in Jeremiah. It is not a question of seeking congratulation, for what sin deserves praise! It is not a matter of seeking selective acknowledgement of 'good deeds', for the heart must be right, God is a Spirit! It is a matter of facing 'backslidings', slippage as one mounts, in the nether direction, of being at once divorced from it, and proceeding with zest in the quest of true companionship with the Lord, to the delightful heights of His purity and truth!
Do it for Your name’s sake;
For our backslidings are many,
We have sinned against You.
"O the Hope of Israel, his Saviour in time of trouble,
Why should You be like a stranger in the land,
And like a traveller who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should You be like a man astonished,
Like a mighty one who cannot save?
Yet You, O Lord, are in our midst,
And we are called by Your name;
Do not leave us!"
So is it in Psalm 73, as we proceed. At first, having expressed his sense of disquiet at the daily purgings, the constant insistence on purity of heart and mind and body, the sense of being a child in tutelage, growing and being taught, he realises the need to overcome such petty predilections, or pre-occupations.
He proceeded therefore into the sanctuary, a site equipped with multitudes of symbolisms of spiritual realities (as in Hebrews 7-10, expounding in some detail).
It was then that "I understood their end." What does the beginning matter if it is a mere path to pollution, a way to the tip, a rubbish treadmill, bringing the components to the waste dump! It is a slack spiritual path and it has a sufficiently descriptive end to match the procedures on the way. If you want the purities of heaven, you must consent to the purgings of the Prince of peace, and be LIKE the way you wish to follow. It is not a mere treading, a simple ambulation, a walking tour for pleasure. The pilgrimage has point, has meaning, has penetration within, touches the heart, moves the spirit, removes chains from freedom and blinkers from vision.
The gift of eternity is not without eternity, and the God and King of eternity is very active!
It is a time when one may "behold the land which is very far off" and by spiritual illumination may indeed begin to "see the King in His beauty" (John 14:21-23, Isaiah 33).
to be "chastened every morning" or
by the work of God on one's spirit when it is dulled, or becoming complacent,
at all worldly, it is de rigueur (73:14), it is to be desired, it
is the way to pure gold, unalloyed. It is the cleansing like a morning
shower, the perfume of reality coming into the ordinariness of the superficial,
the anointing of truth, gloriously apart from the pestiferous promulgations
of the world's tinny vanities, and tiny heart.
PLENTEOUS REDEMPTION PERSPECTIVE
But what of those never chastened ? (cf. Hebrews 12:6). What of those wilfully absent from the family of the children of God ? from the Father of light, and the God of their creation ? The unfounded will be confounded. How simple!
But now ... that image defiled by defiance, emptied by vanity, distorted by misalignment, dashed by odious dreams, lies inert to all spiritual life, glorious in aspiration, inglorious in desperation, a death of beauty. It is despised because it is contemptible, beyond pity, since it despises its own health, its own healing and its own Maker (cf. Proverbs 1, John 3:19,36), yes its very Saviour who in prospect is the Saviour of all men, but in retrospect, only of those who believe (cf. I Timothy 4:10).
His salvation is adequate for all, proposed for all (I John 2:2), but activated only where it is received. To be sure God both knows and foreknows who are His own (cf. Tender Times for Timely Truths 11 *1, Cascade of Truth... Ch. 9, SMR Appendix B, Sparkling Life in Jesus Christ Ch. 7, Predestination and Freewill), but this merely implements His love, and does not at all chasten it (Colossians 1:19ff). The love of God remains as robust as He declares it to be, His appeals as acute, His laments as grand in scope, as solicitous in seeking. Man remains 100% responsible for his own loss, for it is in the very face of the heart of God (Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 23:37, I Timothy 2:1-4, Proverbs 1, Eccleasiastes 11:9ff.).
What however is the position for those whose chastening, if need be every morning, whose rehabilitation into the kingdom of heaven from being outcast by nature from it is real, whose regeneration is accomplished (Titus 3:5-7), and thus whose inheritance has been assured in the very place where God's glory shines (Ephesians 1:11) ? What of these ? Does not David express it with equal simplicity and pith!
This is a purification, then, that is not only a purging, but a burnishing, an infilling from outside, a transforming in the inside, a cultivating and a growing, a conforming in liberty to the good offices of love from Majesty, the majesty that formed us, does form us who are His, and will form us, for as Paul declares of the outward result (II Cor. 3:17-18),
"Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."It IS a terrible thing to be without God in the world, without hope (Ephesians 2:12), without assignable meaning, merely proposing to yourself like some frustrated maiden, seeking a prince, but finding she must take the part herself! It is an abortion of beauty, a confining of truth and worse, a negation of what has given one the very power to affirm anything, and this moreover in the face of a love so profound, so practical, so enterprising, so energetic, so unsparing of its own being, that coming to earth as a Man, God became a ransom, crucified in wisdom, arising bodily in power, irrepressible in certainty, profound in understanding, giving peace. (Cf. SMR
"Oh how are they brought to desolation as in a moment!" (Psalm 73:19).
However, there was in all consistency and purity, a residual 'problem'. How on earth could the saint have become so moved ? He felt abased at his foolishness, he was 'pierced in his innermost thoughts' (73:21), and felt like a beast before his Maker, as fallen humanity before not a man, but God Himself! What debased folly have these thoughts of his, just now, comprised ...
However, God is delighted to purify, not to kill (Lamentation 3:33, Ezekiel 33:11, Micah 7:18ff.). His outreaching will is to redeem and to bless, not to revoke and to mar. How often does His seek the lost, call to the people, remonstrate at their recalcitrance, exhibit His grief at their obduracy, and moreover intimately sustain His own, whether directly or through the hearts of His prophets, as inspired, they relate to His will and love (John 3:16, I John 4:14, Luke 19:42ff., Jonah, esp. Ch. 4, Romans 10:14ff., Colossians 1:19ff., I Timothy 2:1-4, Jeremiah 9, 17:;19ff., 38:17ff., Isaiah 1). These things are surer than the sun in the sky.
So the saint most appositely finds this (73:23):
I am continually with You,
You uphold me by Your right hand."
saint, the righteous man, equipped with that living and vital righteousness
of Christ who heals, redeems and inhabits the life He adopts (as
in Colossians 1:27, Ephesians 3:3-5), finds this continual companionship,
and this uplifting power (cf. Isaiah 40:26ff., cf. Proverbs 24:16). God
makes him rise up like an eagle in soaring flight, when just now, he seemed
slothful and lacking in all aeronautical skill, to pursue the imagery.
More than this, as a ship by the winds is moved, so "You
will guide me with your counsel", yes as a
horse is led on by a delicate and sympathetic rider, responding to his
every shift of weight, almost to the very line of vision of his eyes, when
this is interpreted in physical movement (Psalm 32:7-8).
How readily does foolish theology either exaggerate this, as if a man were not personal, and should not think at all, or else minimise it, as if God were not personal, and could not guide at all, except in principles only! It is not this or that, but both this and that, and certainly, standing orders override and overrule. What would you!
who seem, at times, delighted to doubt, may find it hard to realise the
full-orbed splendour of the interaction and responsiveness of the soul
to the living God, who having declared this,
more then, having been justified by His blood,
we shall be saved from wrath through Him:
for if when were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son,
What then do we find in Psalm 73 as it nears the end ? This: "You will guide me with Your counsel and afterwards receive me to glory!"
No apology; for it is the work of GOD, who having begun a good work, will assuredly complete it (Philippians 1:6), and who, having actually reconciled the soul to Himself, so that it is justified by His blood, will keep it to the end, even to glory (as in Romans 8:17, 28-30).
That is the way it is with the free gift of eternal life: it is a gift, it is eternal and it is effectual. You GET there! HE it is who as the Shepherd, makes sure of that! (John 10:9,27-28). There is no need to derogate His glorious faithfulness, for it IS glorious, shows itself so in experience, in power, in presence, in prayer, in practicalities, in purgings, in restorations, in renewals, in leadings, in love, in mercy, in BEING CONTINUALLY with the saint!
ought to be doctrinally, is what is practically found: the precepts of
the text book are married to the laboratory. These, they do not need to
conspire, since they concur! The laws of the Lord are married to power,
just as the 'laws of nature' verbalise what actually happens.
What then is the testimony of the purified heart, but this, in Psalm 73 (as in verses 25-26):
"Whom have I in heaven but You?This is the retrospect on what was the prospect. Meeting God in full repentance, teachability and without truculence, the blessed pilgrim, the sanctified saint as he is now is, sees with a clarity of vision that the Perfection of Purity, God, not refined but the very source of refinement, not made but the Maker of all and the quest for all, the acme of elegance and the height of blessedness, is not even remotely comparable with anything or anyone on earth (cf. Luke 14:26). Next to His, beauty seems remote, attraction but faint. His is the basis of the best, and the certitude of the pilgrimage, the self-attesting companion in flight, and the author of the Course. Moreover, as Christ, He has already done it Himself!
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
'plays' with you as you play on your course, but it is He who made it.
He works on you as you proceed, but it is He who made you. His is not only
creation but continuance, not merely institution but restitution and realisation.
In Him, the life finds meaning, motivation and motive power from above;
for Him it has reason and relationship, from Him it has vitality and vigour.
But the Psalmist is not done yet.
28 "But it is good for me to draw near to God;The psychological stimulus being quieted, the spiritual need being sated, the moral quest being answered, the purgation being accomplished, the vitality being restored, he can even reflect, like someone who has had a delayed operation, after recovering and exiting from Hospital, "it is good for me to draw near". He is putting his trust in the Lord with the express intention of 'declaring all Your works' It is not enough to have Him for oneself: this Author of man, and Restorer of the lost file (if you will) of man. It is He who knows how to remove any fragmentation in its lineage, in its composition and preservation, and how to edit it anew! Indeed, one could have called this chapter, in part at least, 're-editing a recovered file'!
I have put my trust in the Lord God,
That I may declare all Your works."
Thus the Psalmist plans before God, to "declare all His works". Who knows for how many the infinite counsel and priceless personal blessing of God may be obtained ?
but many stay lost; never having been found, only located, they stay apart,
dislocated. What is it like ? It resembles a lost file, then moving out
into the disk space as fragments.
"For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;You see, if God is like a husband, using that figure, than moving from Him of whom you have learned, is like a woman, intoxicated with allure, playing the part of harlot. Purity it is an intense thing, its gleams not being without deeply-grained polish, and its nature not lacking refinement! It is not a thing of mere blood, or bleak blackness, but dwells in the light of the Lord. The Psalmist, knowing it, cries:
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry."
What better to lead than light; who better to guide than the Lord, and who more amply competent than He of whom Asaph declares, "I am continually with You!": never a deserter, never wavering, never panting, never tired, never lacking counsel, never at a loss, always willing to lead in the paths of peace, to overcome assailants of truth, to invest in His people, the love of His heart, the abundance of His life and the scope of His salvation. As to God, He never fails. Never ? Never.
parallel, He is likewise without equal. While His disparity is divine,
His charity is no less so, and His is the clarity of light.